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Jason Schachat has ridden a spaniel to the rescue, but would rather not talk about it.

Jason Schachat's Occasional Breakdown

It’s a pretty slow week at the comic shop, but thankfully The All New Atom #2 keeps building up the best relaunch since Plastic Man. The secret: thought.

For once, the people behind the book really, really thought about the universe, character and situation. You can’t say “It’s like Batman without a cape” or “He’s a mini-Superman” or “X-Men... with attitude”. There just isn’t anything like this book on the market, and that makes it all the more important.

Flowing smoothly from the DCU Brave New World story (that showed so much promise) and past the premiere issue, this outing reacquaints us with some of the other difficulties involved in being the new kid with the shrink-belt (not to mention coming from Hong Kong and getting used to another country’s quirks).

Unlike just about every comic trying the same plan of attack this week, Atom has Gail Simone to keep the train chugging along. When she has her hero riding a spaniel to save a homeless woman kidnapped by miniature megalomaniacs, you can’t help but cheer that doggy on.

Of course, the other star of this series is John Byrne, and rarely have his abilities to draw both gargantuan technological wonders and piles of filth paid off like they do here. The panels without backgrounds do suffer a little and put perhaps too much weight on the shoulders of Inker Trevor Scott and Colorist Alex Bleyaert, but the painstaking detail of other scenes more than makes up for it.

Ear-piercing while you wait....

Just like Mark Waid did all those years back with The Flash, The All New Atom puts some brain power behind the concept of a man with somewhat limited super powers and doesn’t settle for walking in the well-worn shoes of its predecessor.

Is it totally original? Nope. But, like all good stories, it knows its roots, respects them, and tries not to trip over them while doing the best a little guy can.

Somehow, it’s quite odd to see Marvel Comics releasing something like Agents of Atlas #1. Partly, it’s a matter of legacy. DC were the ones to re-cast their older heroes as the generations that came before. Marvel’s been perfectly content to give Nick Fury a change of clothes and only occasionally let it slip that he should have fossilized by now.

But the big surprise is Agents of Atlas works in its own charming weird way. The “Secret” Avengers it stars won’t be familiar to most Marvel readers, but the pulp style is easily recognizable. How can you not like a book that opens with a 50s Chinese FBI agent, a talking gorilla, one of the robots from The Day the Earth Stood Still, a goddess incarnate, and a Uranian space adventurer saving President Eisenhower from the clutches of a wannabe Fu Manchu?

The pace does slow down some after that introductory adventure. It also looks like we’re heading for the familiar whodunnit territory so many retro books camp in, so this series could always head south before it wraps up in six months.

Still, any comic that teams a talking gorilla and a killer robot is worth a look.

DC 52 #13 marks the point where a normal comic series would be celebrating its first anniversary. Where it’d put out enough content to be recollected into a couple of Trades. Where the fanbase would be stable enough for us to know the series was solid. If it were a normal comic series.

Being a Weekly, it mostly pushes readers to question if it’s worth two and a half clams a week for a series that unflinchingly marches forward with little forgiveness for anyone who takes a couple issues off.

But the book has been stagnating in recent weeks. Rather than the rapid-fire meta-plot we were getting early on, it’s slumped into devoting nearly an entire issue to one thread. The weakest thread: Ralph Dibny.

Ralph rounds up some former JLA buddies to crack down on the Cult of Connor (who raided Ralph’s storage locker for some of Sue’s belongings last issue). Why? Because they want to resurrect Superboy and have decided to use Sue for a test run. It’d be an open and shut case if Ralph could decide whether he wants them to go through with the ceremony or not.

The story suffers from a couple major bumps in the road: One, we don’t really care if characters can be resurrected or not. They can. End of conversation. Two, Ralph has gotten tedious. He’s been characterized as goofball, greaving husband, dark detective, drooling psycho, stone-cold crimefighter, and suicidal has-been in the last year. Despite all this, the man hasn’t grown one iota. And he’s Elongated Man so... yeah.

Black Adam and his new partner Isis get some attention in this issue, but it’s just 3 pages of “Hey! We’re doing stuff!” and “Gee, Adam. Killing is wrong.” Next week promises a return to the Steel, Question & Montoya and Metal Men plots, but this book is going to get tiresome fast if they don’t bring back the quick cross-plotting that made it worth coming back to week after week.

Still a weird costume.

Though it may be more tightly woven than the short story in DCU Brave New World, The Creeper #1 tosses it to us underhand. And suffers for it.

Our story thus far: Jack Ryder is an annoying TV personality. He’s going to meet some wacky new doctor with a miracle drug. The Creeper is born.

For those not in the know, DC just re-invented The Creeper by giving him pretty much the same origin story. Sure, he’s cast as more of a liberal’s Bill O’Reilly, and advances in our misunderstanding of science make the suit, personality, and power one and the same. Doesn’t matter: it’s the same old dog. DC needs to teach him some new tricks or put him down for good.

Steve Niles did give us an interesting spin on the relationship between The Creeper and Jack Ryder in his preview, but none of that is present here. All we get is a drawn out “How I spent my summer vacation and got weird powers”. The conflict is vague and the characters are generic. Nothing creepy about that.

I don’t know who came up with the idea of giving Paul Dini a run on one of the main Batman books, but Detective Comics #822 certainly proves what a good notion it was. We get a single issue mystery that lets The Riddler flex his brain a bit and hits much closer to the spirit of the Dark Knight than Robinson’s recent run.

While the book opens with a murder, it quickly veers away from the usual path when the victim’s filthy rich uncle pulls some strings to get Riddler out of Arkham and on the case. And, while Bats is still brushing his teeth, the first thing he sets out to do is prove Bruce Wayne didn’t commit the crime.

The concept of a Batman/Riddler team-up is cute and clever, so this issue lives or dies by how open you are to it. It doesn’t quite have the punch of last month’s entree, but the story is easier to wrap up in a single issue.

For anyone who can’t shake the notion of Dini as a Batman: The Animated Series or Batman Adventures kids' writer, Don Kramer’s dark art, subtle bloodspray, trip to an S&M club, and choice to give every female character a dazzling display of cleavage should keep this out of the hands of children.

Issue by issue, Detective Comics is on the right track. However, I tend to like it when stories lead somewhere. This run could take place practically any time in Batman continuity. You could even separate the issues by years and not really notice. Is that bad? Not for people looking for a quick Bat-book fix, but it definitely seems that Grant Morrison’s current run on Batman will be the place to go for bigger stories and lasting effects.

Jason Schachat

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